Sustainable remediation has been defined as ‘the practice of demonstrating, in terms of environmental, economic and social indicators, that the benefit of undertaking remediation is greater than its impact and that the optimum remediation solution is selected through the use of a balanced decision-making process’. Sustainable remediation has emerged as a significant area of interest for the management of contaminated land and water for regulators, industry and practitioners in Western Europe, the USA and Asia Pacific. It seems likely that sustainable remediation will develop into a key policy and practice consideration in future years. The application of sustainable remediation principles to the management of upstream oil and gas legacy related impacts have not been explored to date.

This paper attempts to define sustainable remediation in the context of onshore upstream O&G operations, demonstrate how sustainable remediation principles could be applied within the context of existing best practice guidance and explore the opportunities that sustainable remediation may bring as well as the barriers that may exist to its implementation.

The primary conclusion is that where existing regulations are absent or incomplete sustainable remediation can offer an improved framework for the management of contaminated land issues that results in solutions that are protective of human health and the environment, inclusive of the views of local stakeholders and is transparent and robust. Where regulations do exist then sustainability should be considered in the context of what is practically achievable. Sustainable remediation can be a driver for improved engagement with stakeholders that can result in locally acceptable solutions that maximize the benefits to local society as well as acting as a catalyst to drive innovative technical solutions. It is recommended that the application of sustainable remediation to upstream oil and gas sites should be examined more closely with a view to developing sector specific guidance and best management practices that promote the incorporation of sustainability and that the procedures for management of contaminated land associated with upstream operations draw on best practices from other parts of the oil and gas sector and contaminated land management as a whole.

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